Understanding Speciality Coffee: Deciphering the Lingo

When it comes to buying coffee that’s fancier than the supermarket stuff, several wordy terms are thrown around. It can make the world of freshly roasted coffee hard to break into: so I’ve broken down these terms for you instead.

Let’s start with the basics: what is freshly roasted coffee?

In a supermarket or a coffee shop chain, the beans they sell sit on a shelf for months at end, stockpiled until needed. However, from a month after roasting, coffee beans start to lose their unique flavours. The beans don’t go off, but the coffee doesn’t taste as good either.

At Redber, we don’t roast your coffee until we receive your order for it. Your beans will be fresh from our roasters and often still warm to touch when we package them. Look for the bags puffing up when you receive your order! It demonstrates the gases escaping from the beans after we’ve sealed the bags shut.

In one sentence: freshly roasted coffee beans are beans roasted only days before you receive them.

George roasting coffee beans
George hard at work!

Understanding Coffee: Taste Profiles

Once you’ve decided that freshly roasted is the way to go, you need to pick your coffee. With beans from all over the globe and a wealth of tastes, this can be overwhelming. Coffee roasters break down the differences between coffees by describing them using the terms Flavour, Aroma, Body, and Acidity.

Flavour

The flavour of your coffee defines the different attributes you can taste. For example, our Colombia Huila tastes of citrus fruits and chocolate. This is quite different to our Monsooned Malabar, which tastes smoky and spicy. The flavour of a coffee bean comes from the area it’s grown in, influenced by factors from altitude to acidity of soil. When using flavour to decide which coffee you might like to try, consider which flavours you normally prefer. Chocolatey coffees are more traditional, but if you feel like experimenting, why not pick something more unusual?

Aroma

The aroma of your coffee is the scent you breath in with that first inhale. Much of taste actually comes from aroma and therefore it’s important to take it into account. Many aromas are reminiscent of flavours and so the same advice follows. However, typically ‘negative’ aromas such as ‘ashy’ or ‘rubber-like’ are not actually considered that, so it’s worth doing a bit of research into the aroma profile of a coffee you’re considering.

Body

The body of your coffee is the physical sensation of the coffee on your tongue. A coffee can be oily, grainy, or watery — or possess another characteristic. This is also known as mouthfeel or heaviness. This is primarily affected by the brewing method. A filter coffee has a much lighter body in comparison to an espresso shot or cafetiere. A heavier body lends a richer, thicker taste to the coffee when in your mouth. This is generally considered a good thing, however everyone has their personal preference, as lighter bodies are well suited to people with sensitive taste.

Acidity

The acidity of a coffee describes a specific set of flavour notes made available by various acids in the coffee. It is also known as brightness. It’s not referring to the pH level of the drink, but a unique burst of flavour different to the usual ‘coffee’ taste. For example, in Ethiopian coffee, the blueberry notes give it a high brightness. Acidity is neither good nor bad, but simply comes down to personal preference.

Understanding Coffee: Applying the Terminology

Our Coffee of the Month this December is Panama Finca Hortigal and this is how we’ve broken down its taste profile.

Flavours: Brown sugar, citrus, milk chocolate, graham cracker

Aroma: Sweet

Body: Full and creamy

Acidity: Dry white wine

In layman’s terms, when you smell the coffee, it will smell sugary and sweet. To taste, it will have a chocolate flavour with hints of cinnamon (from the graham crackers). It will be thick and creamy to drink and the citrus flavours give it brightness in the form of a tart snap on the tongue.

Panama Hortigal Estate Taste Profile

Understanding Coffee: Roast

Once you’ve picked a coffee, you then need to decide which roast you’d like. This is the process of using heat to transform the green beans into something that’s ready for consumption. All of our coffees are roasted for the same amount of time, however hotter roast temperatures make a darker roast. 

Medium Roast: The lightest roast, this preserves the more unique flavour notes of the coffee beans and is best suited to a cafetiere or filter brewing method.

Medium-Dark Roast: In the middle, all beans are suited to a medium-dark roast.

Dark Roast: Rich, chocolatey, and nutty flavours are prevalent in dark roasts and this is the type of roast we’d always recommend for espresso based machines.

Some types of beans are better suited to one type of roast, but as with all things coffee, it ultimately comes down to personal preference. As a general rule of thumb, however, coffees from the Americas suit the darker roasts, whereas African and Asian coffees suit the lighter roasts. However, feel free to experiment – that’s half the fun in buying coffee roasted to order.

With the lingo broken down, you’ll be able to understand any taste profile, which is key to picking the right coffee for you. At Redber, we want to emphasise that the most important part of the coffee choosing process is all about how you prefer your coffee. After all, our suggestions are more guidelines, than actual rules!

Still unsure? We also have a handy guide to help you choose your coffee!